Giving Back, Napa Valley-Style: Wine and Food Tasting at Auction Napa Valley’s American Classic

Wine and Food Tasting at Auction Napa Valley’s American Classic.

By Philippa Ellis


 After two days of dinners, tours, and tastings, it is on to the main event: The Live Auction.

The world of wine-lovers is abuzz. It’s almost that time of year again; the sinfully devious excuse for an unadulterated four-day romp through Napa Valley has returned, and all in the name of charity. “We start the weekend early here in Napa,” muses Terry Hall, communications director of the Napa Valley Vintners. “The American Wine Classic starts on Thursday with what is called ‘Auction Eve.'”

Hall was kind enough to give Haute Living the inside scoop on the biggest charity wine auction (and all of the before and after events surrounding it) that makes wine devotees from as close as Northern California and as far off as France flock to California wine country annually. This year, from June 5 to 8, Napa Valley will be overflowing with hundreds of patrons who are eager to experience a weekend that they will surely remember for a lifetime. Auction Napa Valley, The American Wine Classic, is a 96-hour marathon of parties, fine wines, live auctions, and endless celebration where oenephiles come to play and the funds raised go toward the betterment of the Napa Community. Whether you are an aficionado or simply an appreciative member of the “red, white, or rosé club,” Auction Napa Valley should be marked on your calendar.

“It’s the must-attend event for consumers in the region,” explains Hall. “We like to call it the granddaddy of charity wine auctions.” The philanthropic goal of the four-day extravaganza is to raise money for the community, specifically for health care, youth services, and affordable housing. So far, so good; Auction Napa Valley generates more money for charity than any other event in the county, bringing in around $9 million annually.

Thursday night is the official start to the Auction Napa Valley weekend, which is celebrated by innumerable block parties. Held at vintners’ homes and wineries, Auction Eve allows the 900 or so patrons a chance to settle in and relax, or get into the spirit with a night of party-hopping. Friday and Saturday’s events are the “meat” of the festival, figuratively and literally-imbibers need sustenance to make the most of the many tastings, and the Taste Napa Valley Marketplace on June 6 is there to provide just that. Each year, more than 150 vintners partner with 80 restaurateurs to celebrate food and wine served as they should be: together, among friends.

Beyond the appreciation of two of life’s greatest pleasures, the main purpose of the daytime tastings is to offer attendees an opportunity to plan potential bidding strategies for the 43 very special lots that will be on the block on Saturday night. It is also a chance to sample some of the options that will be up for sale as well as to familiarize one’s self with the local growers and most valuable vintages.

After two days of dinners, tours, and tastings, it is on to the main event: The Live Auction, held on the rolling greens of the Meadowood Napa Valley, making this the ultimate garden affair. Dinner, dancing, and plenty of bidding are on the agenda as 600 of your newest friends gather under the open-air tent for the season’s biggest night.

Returning host Jay Leno will welcome guests to this year’s auction as they sit down to a multi-course dinner provided by world-renowned chefs. Standouts this year include Douglas Dale of Wolfdale’s in Tahoe City and Ken Frank of local favorite La Toque. The auction begins over dinner and lasts about two-and-a-half hours, with lots going from $50,000 to upwards of $1 million. There are many covetable options including internationally renowned wines offered in special bottles and rare collections. Others are downright decadent; in 2007, a package that included a trip for two with the Staglin family to a vineyard in Italy, a number of vintages of the Staglin family-brand wine, and a Maserati fetched a bid of $1.1 million, the most expensive sale of the year.

Luckily, one need not break the $1 million mark to do their part as smaller lots comprise the majority of the offerings. As Hall explains, “The lots are very Napa Valley-focused. Some of them have trips, but the goal is not for it to become trains, planes, and automobiles; the goal is for it to be about Napa Valley.” After all, 18 holes of golf and a hot air balloon ride are both very good reasons to experience the region beyond the renowned vineyards.

A reception follows the aforementioned events, set against a backdrop of the château-like estate, which gives patrons one last night to absorb all of the wondrous things that Napa Valley has to offer, and naturally, to eat, drink, bid, dance, and be merry.

On Sunday, guests wrap up the weekend with a final farewell fête: a mid-morning brunch hosted this year by the sons and daughters of winery owners. This is the Napa Valley Vintners’ way of tying up the weekend by presenting attendees with one last memory to preserve for a lifetime… or maybe just until next year.